Rites: A Children's Tragedy @ Pleasance Courtyard
The Pleasance’s own young ensemble return to the Courtyard with an adaptation of Wedekind’s Spring Awakening.
It’s not hard to see why Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play Spring Awakening remains so popular over a century later. The haunting and brutally honest portrayal of coming of age and the confusion of burgeoning sexuality in the face of ignorance and repression has been translated and adapted numerous times, including more recently the 2006 hit Broadway musical. Now, the Young Pleasance bring their own take on the story to the Fringe, written by Jo Billington and Tim Norton, accompanied by their sizeable and immensely talented ensemble of actors.
The cast is populated with young talent the likes of which would make many of the adult ensembles present at the Fringe squirm with envy. Dressed in crisp, modest uniforms and floaty, princess-like dresses, the young men and women embody the contradictions of adolescence, from their childlike rollicking on the hills to the gleeful discoveries of the opposite sex. Harry Kingdon is the notable stand-out of the cast, bringing some of the funniest as well as the most touching moments of the production as the perpetually worried Moritz.
Unfortunately, the cast are not given the material they deserve. Billington and Norton’s adaptation has its moments, mostly in the dialogue free scenes, but overall it brings very little new or noteworthy contributions to the material. The Spring Awakening story requires heat and passion, but here, even amid the still shocking scenes of rape and abortion, it all feels a touch simple and overdone. The fragmented nature of the narrative doesn’t come together entirely in the end. One can’t help but wonder why the company didn’t just stick with the original text or even the Duncan Sheik musical, which manages to embody the spirit of the original story while adding a fresh twist.
The cast of Rites: A Children’s Tale are deserving of praise and attention but the material itself is somewhat lacking. Fortunately, the sheer force of their performances, coupled with some tight direction and choreography, pull this production through to the end, even when the audience is left wanting a little more.